'You win or you die' — who will meet which fate as Game of Thrones nears conclusion

HBO's fantasy show starts its final season on April 12. Here's an informal look at who of the protagonists might end up on the Iron Throne as the series wraps.

As HBO's fantasy series heads into its final season on Sunday, we evaluate abundant fan theories

Fan favourites Jon Snow, played by Kit Harington, left, and Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, right, will face off against the ultimate evil in Season 8 of Game of Thrones. (Helen Sloan/Bell Media/HBO/)

NOTE: The following story includes spoilers from Season 7 and theories about Season 8 of HBO's Game of Thrones

If you have stuck around for the last eight years, diligently keeping tab of entangling dynasties, marginal storylines (hello, Dorne!) and endless characters that make up Game of Thrones, you know that the long-awaited culmination of HBO's fantasy series is coming, as the last season kicks off on April 14.

In addition to driving unprecedented fan frenzy, GoT also fuelled a cottage industry of theories, which live everywhere, from real-life water coolers to YouTube videos watched by millions of people, and involve theories realistic and nebulous. There's one that posits wily eunuch Varys is actually a merman. Yes.

Here, we will try to wade through some of the theories relating to the lead contenders' likelihood of ending up on the Iron Throne, taking into consideration previous plot developments, general narrative patterns, and hints dropped by the show creators. For reminders on who's who and basic plot lines, this Game of Thrones wiki page has some good information.

Jon Snow and/or Daenerys Targaryan

The likelihood of fan favourites and newly minted lovers/allies sitting on the Iron Throne together is as romantic as it is unlikely. And their newly revealed familial connection as aunt and nephew won't be the thing preventing it. While incest may be abhorrent to modern viewers, in the universe of Game of Thrones, it is extremely common. Targaryens in particular wed brothers and sisters for ages (Dany's own parents were siblings). However, it's a little too neat of an ending to fit in with author George R.R. Martin's description of the series's culmination as "bittersweet."

The possibility of either Jon or Dany occupying the seat of power, however, after losing or betraying each other, is more likely. So which one?

Daenerys's character arc has been impressive: from the child bride sold to the Dothraki to the liberator of slaves and Mother of Dragons, with the mightiest army at her command.

She came, she saw, she conquered. Daenerys Targaryen has a knack for leadership and military strategy, but has her humanity been compromised? (Helen Sloan/Bell Media/HBO)

But along the way, some of her cruel streak began to emerge as well. We saw it most recently in her burning of Samwell Tarly's father and brother, just because they refused to pledge loyalty to her. It's something her adviser, Tyrion, remarks on: If Dany continues on her "burn them all" path (to quote the infamous last words of her father, the Mad King), she will hardly be the conqueror that "breaks the wheel" of injustice, as she once vowed to do. She would merely perpetuate the tradition of cruelty that has plagued Westerosi leadership.

On the other hand, Jon Snow is morally much purer, and as far as the Westeros rules of succession go, has a greater claim to the throne than Daenerys, as the male child of the oldest Targaryen son and Lady Lyanna Stark.

However, Jon seems to have zero interest in the Iron Throne. Also, time and time again, we've seen he is strategically not the strongest leader, and places his trust in people who don't deserve it — the brothers of the Night's Watch who conspired against him, Northern lords, and most recently, Cersei Lannister. 

WATCH | Some speculate that Daenerys's child will be heir to the throne.

There is, however, a possibility that the heir to the Iron Throne will be neither Jon nor Daenerys, but their child. The heavy foreshadowing dialogue in season 7 all but spelled out that Daenerys, who thought herself infertile after the prophecy by the witch Mirri Maz Duur, will in fact be pregnant with Jon's child by mid-point of this season. But whether she would survive giving birth to that child is another story: birthing a Targaryen baby has proven a perilous business, from Daenerys's own mother, to Jon's mother Lyanna. Jon or Tyrion playing regent to Daenerys' baby after she dies? Now that might be "bittersweet."

Cersei Lannister

As Season 8 opens, Cersei Lannister sits on the Iron Throne, having succeeded her sons Joffrey and Tommen, as the first female ruler of Westeros. She pledges help to Daenerys and Jon in their fight against the Whitewalkers, but it's not in good faith. While Cersei has been a fascinating character to watch, a woman who defied traditional roles afforded to her sex in Westeros, and a shrewd survivor who changes alliances more often than her hairstyles, it's not likely she'll remain queen as the show wraps. 

WATCH | What will become of Cersei?

Prophecies are a big deal in the Game of Thrones universe, and no character has been more bound to one than Cersei. While still a little girl, the Lannister heiress was told she would marry a king, have three children and see them all die. In the books, the prophecy goes further: foretelling she would also be killed by a younger brother. 

It's no secret there's no love between Tyrion and his older sister, but time and time again, we've been shown that Tyrion cannot bring himself to kill her, no matter how much pain she's caused him. But Jaime, her (ever-so-slightly younger) twin and lover, is another story. His history has proven him capable of making difficult choices for the greater good. Could the Kingslayer become the Queenslayer? It's not an unlikely scenario, if Cersei makes a decision that could kill many.

Tyrion Lannister

Tyrion, the Imp, on the Iron Throne? Well, there is no shortage of people who believe he, too, like Jon, is actually a Targaryen and there are some hints to back up this theory: from the dragons taking kindly to him, to Tywin Lannister's final words being "you're no son of mine!" (GoT fans do love taking a metaphorical utterance in its literal iteration), Tyrion's true identity could strengthen his claim to the Iron Throne.

WATCH | Don't count Tyrion out ...

However, like Jon Snow, it's dubious he ever wanted to rule Westeros, even if he has proven himself a capable leader, including during his stint as the Hand of the King at King's Landing. Whether he is crowned King or not,Tyrion's very survival as a little person and not-great warrior in the land where might makes right is a triumph and speaks to his exceptional intelligence (and author George R.R. Martin's professed favouring of this character over all others). Though Tyrion may well survive, he would likely opt for the role of an adviser to the eventual king or queen.

True winner: Game of Thrones, the series

And perhaps, our very choices of the likely occupants of the Iron Throne speak to one of the show's greatest strengths — the ability to turn the downtrodden and marginalized characters into powerful leaders. It's a likely, though underexplored, aspect of its emotional sway over its fans (and sure, there's lots of sex and violence, too).

As the show closes, the most powerful contenders are two queens who managed to rise to power despite patriarchy, a bastard, and a little person. No matter who ends up sitting on the Iron Throne, and no matter how many dragons or ice zombies appear, Game of Thrones is a winner.

About the Author

Deana Sumanac-Johnson is a national CBC News reporter for the entertainment unit. She appears regularly on The National and CBC News radio programs, specializing in stories on music and literature/publishing. Before joining the arts unit, she was an award-winning current affairs producer for CBC News: Sunday.


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